Friday, January 15, 2021

Time to cut back on nuclear arms

Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

On Feb. 8, Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act (H.R. 3974). This SANE Act would cut $100 billion from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget over the next 10 years. Cutting the nuclear weapons budget makes a lot of sense.

The real nuclear threat to the U.S. does not lie in the fact that it does not, or will not, possess enough nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack. Rather, it is that there is no guarantee that nuclear deterrence works. That is why the U.S. government is so worried about North Korea possessing a few nuclear weapons or Iran possibly obtaining a few. The grim reality is that if governments are reckless or desperate, they will use nuclear weapons or perhaps give them to terrorists to attack their foes.

Thus, what has made the United States safer in this dangerous world has not been piling up endless numbers of nuclear weapons, but rather nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for example, by trading promises of the nuclear powers to disarm for promises of the non-nuclear powers to forgo nuclear weapons development, has persuaded the vast majority of nations not to develop nuclear weapons.

As a result of patient U.S. diplomacy, even the leaders of North Korea, one of the worst-governed countries in the world, seem to have shown recent glimmers of sanity. In late February, they announced that, thanks to an agreement with the U.S. government, they would suspend nuclear tests and uranium enrichment as well as allow international inspection of their nuclear facilities.

If even the government of North Korea can manage to display a measure of common sense, then is it too much to ask our own government to do the same? Our leaders in Washington could join Representative Markey and his Congressional allies in cutting back the U.S. government’s vast nuclear doomsday machine and using the savings to provide for Americans. Surely it’s time to try a little nuclear sanity.

Lawrence S. Wittner, emeritus professor of history at the State University of New York at Albany

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